Aufhauser’s discussion of some miracles of St George

Update (1st June 2018): Since I wrote this post, I have become aware that there is no collection of miracle-stories about St George transmitted in the medieval manuscripts.  There are scattered stories in many manuscripts, some as late as 1878!  Aufhauser simply discusses some that were contained in one or another of the manuscripts that he was using.  They do NOT form a collection in Greek.  I have slightly revised this post accordingly, and I will do another with full details.

The literary texts about St George the Megalomartyr preserved in the medieval manuscripts naturally include the story of his martyrdom and death.

But the same manuscripts often contain one or more miracle stories.  Those that came before his eyes were summarised by J.B. Aufhauser in 1911 in his Das Drachenwunder des heiligen George in der griechischen und lateinischen Überlieferung, (online here) in which he also edited two of the miracles: that of the dragon, and that of the demon.  The texts of these 13, plus a further 6 miracles, were edited by him in Teubner in 1913 under the title Miracula S. Georgii (see this post for more details).

Aufhauser found that there was no literary tradition for this material.  There was no collection, no original composition.  The stories were written in various ways, just like folk stories.  There was no “authentic” literary text to transmit.  The content, not the words, was what people wanted.

The manuscripts used date from the 11th-18th century.  Here is a summary of the content of miracles 1-13.

Note that in Coptic there does seem to be a collection, with as many as 80 miracles listed; but I have yet to investigate these.

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The oldest manuscript containing a collection of miracles known to Aufhauser was the 11th century Cod. Paris 1604, parchment., 293 folios long. The manuscript is a homiliary, but it also contains many hagiographical texts.  The martyrdom of St George (type B1) is on f. 141-70, followed by the first three miracle reports.

1.  Of the Widow’s Pillar: In Palestine, a king in the hometown of the saint, where also his relics rest, for honor sought to rebuild a church. Even a widow wanted to contribute a pillar; but her gift was spurned. Grieving she then petitioned the saint. There appeared to her an armed horseman and asked her for the reason of her complaint. She told him the offense she suffered. The knight wrotes down her wish that her pillar will be the second on the right side of the temple, on the pillar itself. This was wonderfully brought to the site and the chief engineer, filled with astonishment at the widow’s faith, fulfilled the command engraved on the column.

2. Of the pierced picture: The Saracens once plundered this hometown of the saint and desecrated his church. Even against the images of the saints, they turned their spears. A prisoner scolded them, and the more because St. George, to whom the church was consecrated, had been an invincible warrior. At the question of the unbelievers, he showed them his image. Then one threw his lance against the picture; but it bounced back and hit the sinner in the middle of the heart. He sank dead to the ground; the others saw the picture stretch out its hand. They fled in horror, proclaiming with fear the power inherent in the image.

3. Of the captive youth from Paphlagonia: On a campaign the Agarenes (= Saracens as descendants of Hagar) once captured many in Paphlagonia. Among these was a young man who served in the temple of St. George at Phatris. Brought before the army commanders, some were beheaded, others sentenced to slavery.Theyouth was destined for the service of the general because of his beauty. Because he did not want to be unfaithful to his faith, he was degraded to serve the cooks, to carry water, and to chop wood. In his distress he turned to St George. At one evening, when he went to his camp, he heard his name outside the court. He opened and faced a rider.  He leaned down to him as if to hug him. Instead, he took him up on his horse, rode off, and took him to a strange house. Then he disappeared. The youth sank into a deep sleep. Early in the morning, one of the house-folks found him in his Agarese clothing and shouted in horror. For his part, the youth recognized the man in his spiritual costume as a Christian and a monk. He saw himself again in the temple of St. George, from whom he had been kidnapped. Everyone praised God for the miraculous rescue of the prisoner.

In the epilogue, the author emphasizes that he has told few of the many miracles, so as not to arouse disbelief and weariness. It would be easier to count the sand on the sea or the stars of the sky than any wonders that the saint himself or through others had worked. With high praises he then turns to the saint for intercession, so that he, too, can obtain eternal life in Christ, to whom honour and adoration are eternal.

Another 11th century manuscript from 1023 AD (Cod. Mosquensis bibl. syn. 381 (Wlad.), parchment, 367 folios) is similar but somewhat expanded.  It has a long introduction, followed by the same three stories, in the same order although not verbally identical.  Then another miracle story is given, which is really a revised version of the third:

4. Of the captive George, son of the army commander Leo in Paphlagonia. In Paphlagonia, St. George receives special worship. With great confidence one made a pilgrimage to his church at the spot.   Also the army commander Leo Phocas and his wife Theophano carry a special devotion to the saint. When a boy was born to them, they baptized him in that church in the name of the saint. Later, they gave him to the local priest for instruction in theology.   The western pagan peoples invaded the country: Bulgarians, Hungarians, Scythians, Medes and Turks. Only through the protection of God did the city escape destruction. At the Emperor’s command, a revenge expedition was set up and Leo was to lead it. Because of his old age, he sent his son George, who was just entering the age of youth. Before that, he recommended him in that church to the protection of the saint. His parents prayed for him day and night. But the invasion of the barbarian lands failed, a punishment of godlessness. Those who were not slain or devoured by the sea or crushed by horses died in captivity of famine. George was appointed to serve the army commander because of his beauty.

The parents went home full of bitter complaints and unwilling grumbling against the saint, even in his church. Above all, his mother was heartbroken when she saw her son’s peers. George also assailed the saints for help in his captivity. There came the anniversary of the saint; all the more, they begged him for salvation. During the celebration of joy on the occasion of the feast, the talk was only of George, who only a year before was among the festivities; and everyone was full of deep pain.

The same day George was busy at the oven. His memories were at home at the feast. Then his comrades ordered him to bring a vessel, called a koukomion, full of hot food to his master. But the vessel carried him into the air and in a moment it set him down in the middle of the feast of his father’s house. At the sight of his Bulgarian clothing and the steaming koukomion everyone cried out; horrified, his parents crashed to the floor. When George got himself together, he told how, just as a prisoner in the Bulgarian country, he wanted to bring this koukomion to his master; but an (…) had brought him here in a moment through the skies over the sea. In vain was the savior sought. His parents were also recovering and everyone was full of joy and thanks for St George. But a further miracle! Everyone was satisfied by the food brought. Then they went to the church of the saint, to thank him and to ask forgiveness for the grumbling. The koukomion they gave in the temple as a sacrificial chalice. At that time George was still a youth. But now, when he grew old, he told this miracle that had once happened to him.

Note that in both of these 11th century manuscripts the Dragon miracle is not given, and was presumably unknown to the compilers.  Further stories appear in later manuscripts:

5). Of the runaway oxen of Theopistos. In the time of Emperor Theodosios, there lived in Cappadocia a man named Theopistos; his wife was called Eusebeia. They were childless. Seven years after their marriage, Theopistos once on 20 May hitched a pair of oxen on the yoke to plough. But he fell asleep and the oxen ran away. All searching was in vain. At the request of a neighbor he called St. George for help with a promise to sacrifice his oxen. At night the saint appeared to him and showed him the disappeared animals. To thank the farmer slaughtered a buck. But the saint was not satisfied with that and demanded redemption of the promise. Even the sacrifice of a sheep and a lamb could not satisfy him, since, as the saint declared in a new apparition, it would not correspond to his dignity as komes. He now demanded the oxen and all the sheep. Theopistos now sought to interpret the apparitions as a ghost in order to escape his obligation. Then the saint again showed himself to him, this time … and threatened him with destruction by fire if the promise were not fulfilled. Now Theopistos slaughtered all his animals. Then twice thirty riders sprang up and announced the approach of the komes. He himself appeared on a white horse. Well, he said, he knew that the sacrifice was to St George; but his name is George and he is also from Cappadocia. Now everyone was satisfied with the sacrificial dishes. Out of the bones, however, the komes again formed the oxen of Theopistos. The other goods of the farmer were also increased, in addition he was given seven sons and three girls. He gratefully built a church for the saint. After 22 years, he died and was buried in that church with his wife, who followed him to death after seven days.

6. The vision of the Saracen during the liturgy and his conversion. The army commander Nikolaos Julas said: The Emir of Syria sent his cousin to a city called by the Saracens Ampelon. There was a famous church of St. George. The Saracen ordered his luggage brought inside under shelter there, including the camels. The priests tried in vain to dissuade him. The camels also fell dead when entering the sanctuary. The hour of the liturgy approached. The Saracen stayed there and saw in the hands of the priest a child, who was later eaten by the priest and those present. In the distribution of the Eulogies he announced to the priest his indignation that one is tormenting a child.  He was astonished at the vision, taught the stranger in faith, and sent him to be baptized to the monks of Sinai. He became a monk (called Pachumios) and stayed there for three years. Then he returned to that priest to look again at the child. But he sent him to the Saracens to announce their faith. Before his cousin, the Emir, he confessed himself as a Christian and a monk. But his conversion attempts failed: instead he was  stoned by the Saracens.

This miraculous account is usually attributed to Gregory Dekapolites (died 817), sometimes to a monk Markos, of whom we know only the name.

7. The punishment of an atrocity of a Saracen to the image of the saint and the conversion of the wicked. Some saracens once came to a church of the saint where the liturgy had just ended. At the sight of the image of St. George one of them threw a lance inside and hurled it against the picture. But it bounced back and hit his own hand. At home he asked the Christians about the power of the picture. They directed him to the priest. He explained to him the worship of the church, told him the life story of George and promised him a healing of the hand, even though he adored the image. He was in fact healed. Then he read the story of the suffering of the saint and was baptized. For the proclamation of faith in the Saracens, he himself suffered martyrdom.

This also is a version of #2 above.

8. Of the murdered soldier. At the time of the war against the Turks, a general once took his army to Syria. From here he sent a soldier home with a lot of gold and silver. On the way he stayed overnight in a hermitage dedicated to St. George. The hermit let himself be seduced by the gold, murdered the sleeping soldier and dismembered him. In the meantime, the wife of the soldier saw at home in the dream the danger in which her husband was hovering. At daybreak she hurried to the church of the saint at his grave and pleaded for help. The saint rode to the hermit and asked for the remains of the soldier. No denial was accepted. George resuscitated the chopped-up masses of flesh and sent the soldier to the army with the money. At home the soldier recounted the misfortune suffered, the woman the dream, and both praised God and the miracle worker George.

9. Of the captive youth of Mytilene. On the island of Mytilene there was a church of the saint. Cretan corsairs once wanted to invade the island. They chose the anniversary of the saint on which all the people were in the church. Anyone who was hit at home was captured, even the son of a widow. He was young and very beautiful; therefore he became servant of the Emir of Crete. The widow, however, besieged the saint for help. When the young man once wanted to do his duty as cup-bearer at noon, George carried him home to his mother. And they praised God and his saints.

This is a simpler version of #3 and #4; also the scene is changed.

10. Of the pancake. In Paphlagonia was a church of the saint; it was destroyed. George wanted her rebuilding. Children once played in the square. One of them could never win. He was laughed at by the others. In his distress he turned to the saint and promised him a cake of eggs. Then the child was granted the victory, and he brought forth his still steaming gift. Three fishermen came to the temple to perform their devotions. They ate the food. As punishment, they fell to the ground and could only rise again when each of them had promised to sacrifice a guilder (florion).

11. Of Manuel, the man with the consecration gifts. A brief introduction first calls for the purification of all defilement in order to dignify the feasts of the saints. Then begins the narrative: In Paphlagonia, near the metropolis of Gangra, stands in a placed called Didia a highly revered church of St. George. A man of the village called Leo had a son Manuel. Both had great confidence in St. George. Every year the son also made a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Archangel Michael in Chonae. There he also brought consecration gifts of other pious people. Once he had gifts worth a pound of gold. One evening, exhausted from the pilgrimage, he could no longer reach the village where he used to spend the night. When the night came, he saw a spark of fire in a valley. He found a house, a robber’s den, in which a robber hid himself with his wife and son. Only the woman was at home, the other two were gone to steal. Manuel asked for a hostel. The woman investigated him. When she heard of the consecrations, she also pretended piety and said that they wanted to make the pilgrimage with him. Then she led him inside and invited him to rest. She closed the door and waited for her husband and son. These came downcast and reported on their futile raid. The woman laughed at her and told her about her effortless catch. Manuel heard everything in his room. Full of pain, he pleaded with St. George for help. He was led out and had to tell everything. After the meal, they set off. The two robbers led him on impassable paths, and tried to drown him in a river. In the greatest distress he called again on St. George. There was a lightning flash, and the two fiends plunged into the river. He led Manuel on his horse to the church of the Archangel and ordered him to return home and proclaim God’s goodness. At the same hour the saint appeared before the robber’s den. When asked about the whereabouts of the stranger, the woman replied that he had gone to Chonae with her husband and son after the meal. Then fire fell from the sky and left everything in ruins. The man sacrificed his gifts in Chonae and returned to his native land, where he spent the rest of his life in humility and penance.

Related to #8.

12. The Dragon Miracle.

13.  The miracle of the unmasked demon.

#13 often appears with #12.  No summary of either is given by Aufhauser, but texts of both are printed in various versions.

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What are we to make of these items?  Obviously all of them are folk-story.  None is history or biography.

While reading them, I was reminded of a comment by a friend in my college days, about a big Christian bible-week.  “I hear they had angels at the Dales again this year.”  I have no opinion on whether angels really did appear at the bible-week in 1981.  The point is that a climate existed in which my friend could repeat what was plainly a story going around, without obvious embarrassment.  Indeed it was a “nice story” to him, a sign of God at work in the lives of his people.

Looked at in this life, the stories given above are of the same type.  Some problem in life is met with prayer to Saint George.  The saint responds, and the grateful recipient tells others how his prayer was answered.

Over time the story gets embroidered.  This happens whenever a story is passed from mouth to mouth, even today; and in ages when exact accuracy was not really valued, it must have happened more.  In fact we can see an example of this happening above, in the two stories where a Saracen throws his spear at an icon of St George.

In one version it bounces off the hard wall and hurts his hand.  In a revised version it bounces off and hits him straight through the heart; and bystanders see the hand of the saint move.  Oral transmission is quite enough to account for the embroidery.  The point is a people looking to see God and his Saints at work in the incidents of everyday, just as a modern Christian would.

The story of St George and the dragon is a different matter, however.  Somebody actually created this story.  But it is an exception in the St George literature.

10 thoughts on “Aufhauser’s discussion of some miracles of St George

  1. If you go to a church of St George, or any saint for that matter, in Greece during a feast or a monastery dedicated to him any time, the standard item you can find is a small booklet, the size of an advertising pamphlet that has the life of the saint accompanied by local miracles he has performed. Local means in the municipality, if not in the parish. Now #6 I remember reading, only in the variation that I read it has the Saracen prince being killed by his own father. #10 is usually associated with St Demetrius, the difference being that it is about a youth that prayed to him to win an athletic competition and two rich bullies just ate the sphugato and they stuck to the steps, and could not get up until they promised St Demetrius one gold coin each. #9 is obviously set during the Emirate of Crete (824/7 – 961 AD)

  2. Thank you for all this detail, made available in English!

    In connection with ikokki’s comment, ‘locality’ seems a feature of the stories – with reference to particular dedicated Churches, though in 8 “a hermitage” and in 5 only built later (and what of the date, here? – a dedication feast date? – my quick search could not find any general Feast of St. George on that date).

    How ancient and widespread is the keeping of local records of miracles?

    I’d be glad to know more of what a ‘koukomion’ is (any wordplay with various senses of the verb ‘komizdo’?)… It is striking that in the first part of the story as you recount it, the vessel seems to ‘act of itself’, and that there are similarities to Grail romances with reference to the feeding: “Everyone was satisfied by the food brought.” (Here, as C.S. Lewis suggests re. the Grail, compare the account of manna in the Book of Wisdom.)

  3. If we are talking about a major saint, a list of miracles of the saint can go back to antiquity. For example there are a couple of raids from Arabs and Slavs to Thessaloniki that are known only from lists of miracles of St Demetrius and not from chronicles or historians. The village church is the pride of the village, in some villages it hosts a miraculous icon. When strangers come, especially in the feast day of the church/saint, the locals will tell them of all of its achievements. Over time these tend to get written down, leading to the chronicles. Now, be aware that per historical studies Greece had a large number of abandoned villages in the 14th and the 19th century, due to the collapse of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire respectively. If the village survives, one way or another, the story will be written down and told even if the church building does not. I remember visiting a village where they said with pride that their church dates to the 11th century, even though the building was only from the 20th. The next time you visit Greece go on a tour of the local church, if available. They will tell you this sort local miracle stories.

    From what I can say, I would guess that the miracle stories above most likely originate from Eastern Asia Minor during the Byzantine Arab wars. I would guess (and this is a total guess) that some Cappadocian monk compiled them in this list, rather than a Constantinopolitan who would add more stories associated with the City and the Slavic raids

  4. The egg story reminds me of part of that long St. Menas story about the ex-barren ex-pagan woman, who (after a huge fertility miracle in her household) sent eggs to the shrine of St. Menas as a thank-offering, and the boatman ended up eating them.

    I suspect that, in the days when people sent in-kind donations or thank-offerings, there was a fair amount of sacrilegious pilfering and eating. So if there were bad things that happened to the pilferers, or stories teaching people not to steal from God or the saints, that’s what you’d expect. (And a lot nicer stories than the Biblical one about Ananias and Sapphira.)

  5. Returning to Number 6: Daniel J. Sahas has an interesting paper in Orthodox Christians and Muslims, ed. N.M. Vaporis (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1986): “What an Infidel Saw that a Faithful Did Not: Gregory Dekapolites (d. 842) and Islam’ (pp. 47-67). It includes (on pp. 50-62) a annotated translation of the relevant “Historical Sermon” or “Speech” from PG 100.120-12. Gregory says it was related to him by “Nicholas the strategos, called Joulas” as having happened in his town, called ‘Vineyard’ in Arabic (and given as ‘Ampelos’ in Greek). “In that place there is also a big church, old and splendid, dedicated to the Saint, the most glorious martyr, George” (near the end of [1201A]: p. 52). Sahas has a long footnote beginning, “The affection of Muslims for Saint George is very interesting, although not yet thoroughly explained.” It ends by referring to a hero in Islam, “Abu Zayd, known as Bu Zid il-Hilali in Zafar and North Arabia, saying, for the text of a story about him “with an introduction and commentary, see T.M. Johnstone, ‘A St. George of Dhofar’ Arabian Studies, 5 (1978), 59-65.”

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